The poise of a Punk Rock Unicorn

Digging through the bag of fabric paint, she knows exactly what she’s looking for. The body of the unicorn gets turquoise blue in swirling dabs, while the mane, tail and tiny hooves are carefully added with small, precise strokes of bright pink. Next, the horn and three music notes are added in dark purple.

Smiling, she dips a slim brush into a glob of sparkly gold and begins adding dots around the large black lettering of her band name, “Punk Rock Unicorn.”

“This looks so good,” she says.

She doesn’t ask what I think.

She doesn’t worry if her bandmates will like it.

She loves it.

“Can you paint my nails?” she asks. “Some blue and some pink. Oh, and with gold tips!”

I say yes, but I struggle to make it happen. The main color doesn’t reach the edge of every nail, and the gold tips are uneven.

“Sorry,” I say.

“They are perfect,” she says while wiggling her fingers in front of her face. “Thank you!”

It’s time to leave for her band’s show, the culmination of a week of Girls Rock Camp. She is wearing her favorite leggings, a faded swirling galaxy of pink and purple with visible holes in the knees. Her hair isn’t brushed and it’s matted in the back where she slept on it wet.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear a sparkly skirt and brush your hair? Maybe add some color?”

“I look fine mom,” she says. “I’m comfortable.”

I want to fight her.

I want her to care more about how she looks.

I want her to look more put together.

But there she is, my Punk Rock Unicorn, smiling at me without any hesitation at all, while I changed my outfit several times and still wasn’t happy with my own reflection in the mirror.

This is all I’ve ever wanted for my girl, to be unapologetically herself, to not shrink for anyone, and to rock everything she does without fear or doubt.

Her confident smile is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

At the show, I watch her and all the girls playing instruments and singing with a reckless joy I don’t know I’ve ever felt in my life.

They are brave, free and strong.

They are working together, not in competition, lifting and rising as one.

I’m so happy for them…until I’m not.

Something inside starts churning up, this voice of perfectionism and criticism.

Why is my girl singing so quietly? She isn’t smiling and doesn’t look as confident as some of the others. Why did she act shy when she was given a compliment? I’m sure it’s my fault, something I’m doing wrong. I’m ruining this perfect girl.

After the show, she runs to me and hugs me hard. She has bright blue eye makeup and sparkly lip gloss her coach put on her backstage. Her arms feel strong and solid.

“Did you have fun?” I ask her.

“Yes!” she says.

“How come you looked so shy up there? Why weren’t you smiling more?”

The words come tumbling out before I can stop them. I recognize this voice, the very same one sabotaging my writing and stopping me from doing anything I might fail it.

Shit.

I don’t want it to be her voice.

I search her face, looking for any trace of damage my words may have caused.

“What do you mean?” she says.

Her face is as radiant as ever.

“I’m very proud of you,” I say. “You really rocked it up there! It looked so fun. I bet you are proud.”

“Thanks,” she says. “I am!”

She melts into me, the warmth of her body like a blanket soothing my critical voices and giving me another chance.

Always another chance.

I remember her plan to have her bandmates and coaches sign her shirt.

“People are starting to leave,” I say. “Did you still want to get signatures?”

“Yes,” she says and runs off to borrow a pen.

I watch her go and make it happen for herself.

Her confidence isn’t loud or boastful, but calm and careful.

She gently taps friends and coaches, asking them to sign her shirt, standing still as they do.

I see many are holding the tiny pink unicorn erasers she spent an hour digging out of the bins in her room, the ones she so thoughtfully brought for them all.

My heart nearly bursts.

This girl is everything.

After the show, we head to dinner and she gives the waitress one of the teeny unicorn erasers, a light pink one with a purple mane and tail.

“Did you see her smile?” she says. “I think she liked it.”

“Yes,” I say. “You make everyone smile, just by being you.”

“Thanks mom.”

*For more information about Girls Rock Sacramento visit http://www.girlsrocksacramento.com

 

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It’s all about the confidence

My ratty sweatpants and stained tank top were covered haphazardly in paint. My hair was pulled back sloppily and I had splotches of yellow on my face and arms. I’m an incredibly messy painter who tends to get as much on myself as the walls.

Obviously, I was in no condition to go into the grocery store. But as the kids and I were starving and there was nothing to eat at home, that is exactly what I did.

“Ugh, I’m so embarrassed to walk into Trader Joes looking like this,” I said as we walked through the door. “I should not be out in public.”

“Mom,” my daughter said grabbing my hand and making me face her. “You look like you worked hard and you did. You were helping our school. You should be proud.”

Wow.

“Your right,” I said.

I wish I could report that I felt completely better and that I walked around without giving my appearance another thought.

That’s not what happened.

I was still quite embarrassed to look such a wreck in public. I felt as if everyone was looking at me with their disappointed gazes of judgment. I was sure they were making assumptions of me as a person and mother.

At the checkout stand, I felt an urgent need to apologize and explain myself.

“Sorry I look so messy,” I said. “I was just painting and had to dart out quick.”

“You look fine mom,” my daughter said in a clearly annoyed tone. “I told you that. You worked hard and it looks like it.”

“Your right,” I told her. “I did work hard.”

“You always look great mom,” she pressed.

“Thanks love,” I said blushing, embarrassed that my 7-year-old daughter was schooling me in front of the store clerk.

“I mean it mom,” she said. “You do.”

And she is right.

I have made incredible strides in my self-esteem, but there are days when I feel like an ugly witch from a Grimm’s fairytale and nothing will shake it. That’s when all the mean things I’ve been told over the years comes bubbling to the surface and I can’t quiet the voices.

I’m 37-years-old and those voices are still there, whispering when I’m most vulnerable. What they say is untrue, but it doesn’t matter. When I am weak, I believe them. I let them tear at me. I let them get me.

If I had the power to grant my daughter one wish, it would be that she never loses the voice inside that tells her how special and amazing she is. That she stays true to herself.

Ever since that exchange at the grocery store, I can’t stop thinking about protecting my girl. What can I do to combat all the negativity that is headed her way? How can I ensure her voice stays the strongest and that she gives no power to all the other voices that will be directed at her?

Then I stumbled across an interesting piece featured on A Mighty Girl called “I Like My Body Because It’s Magic.” A photographer interviewed girls between the ages of four and eight about what they liked about their bodies. The answers inspired me to talk to my girl.

I asked her to draw a picture of herself and write what she liked about her body. Here is what she did:

mightygirl

I love this so much that I hardly have words for it. It makes me happy in the deepest of ways. It gives me hope that maybe she will not struggle like me.

Just maybe.

As we were hanging her picture on the refrigerator, it occurred to me that I should have her do this every Thanksgiving as a yearly focus on what she loves about her body. We could keep them in a little book and pull it out each year to see how she has grown.

My hope is that this little act will serve as a yearly window of opportunity for us to talk about her body. It will give her a chance to focus in on her strengths and me a great opportunity to keep up with all the changes headed her way.

I also know that I need to set a good example, and I’m trying. I no longer say I hate my body and I’m learning to accept things about myself. I am growing and hopefully I can keep up with her.

Her wisdom and spirit is something I will fight to protect.

I have always tried to stay away from compliments, hoping that would help her see that she is more than her appearance. But everyone needs to hear they are beautiful, inside and out. I need to be a positive voice whispering the truths of her beauty to her, so she can combat the negativity headed her way.

I need to be louder.

So on this day of Thanksgiving, as a tribute to my daughter and to combat my own voices, I’m going to say a few nice things about my own body.

  • I love how strong my back and arms are. I can work around the house, lift my children and carry things up and down the stairs all day. My arms help me to cradle my loved ones and make them feel safe in my embrace.
  • I love how my eyes change colors. They are beautiful reflections of my mood and one of the most powerful ways I show my love for my children. When I am happy, they shine brightly and light up my entire face.
  • I love how tiny my hands, feet and head are. I can shop in the kids department for shoes, gloves and hats. It makes me feel youthful and cute.
  • I love how my brain works, always in wonder and awe of the world around me. I notice the clouds in the sky, the hummingbirds at my window and the tiny patterns in the leaves.

So I challenge everyone to take a moment today and be thankful for the beauty that is you. I know it’s cheesy, but do it.

Sarah Maren Photographers

As my beautiful girl reminds me every day, everyone is special.

Yes, even you with the gravy on your shirt, you are worth celebrating.

I love you.

Never gonna give up the fight

“Can you believe how ugly she is?”

“What is she thinking by wearing her hair like that? Gross.”

“I know. Did you see her shoes? Seriously. How horrible! With toes like that she should cover them up. Ugh.”

So it goes.

For over an hour.

I usually move when these two mothers sit next to me, but today the karate studio was full. I could have gone to my car, but my daughter likes to be able to see me.

I tried hard to read my book or focus on watching the class, but they are literally inches away from me and they are loud. They flip the pages of a fashion magazine and make fun of every person they see. They gossip and laugh it up.

I seriously forget sometimes that people are like this.

When our daughters come out of karate together the moms continue as my girl puts her shoes on. I try to talk over their voices so she won’t notice them, but it’s impossible.

“Can you believe the gall of that woman to wear eyeliner like that? Who does she think she is!” one wails so loudly my daughter can’t help but look at the picture. I look too.

For a second I think, “She’s right. That looks ridiculous.”

Then I snap back to reality and swoop my girl out of there.

At the car my daughter says, “Why were those moms saying that stuff?”

Using a Waldorf teaching method I say back, “I wonder about that too.”

She doesn’t say anything else.

When I get home it’s dinnertime, teeth-brushing, reading and cuddles. I lose myself in the routine, but in the back of my mind a question keeps repeating itself.

I was feeling anger and disgust at those mothers. My sitting there and judging in anger these women…is that equal to them sitting there judging the models and celebrities in the magazine?

Once the kids are asleep, I put that question to my husband.

He said these women are obviously jealous and that by breaking down and scrutinizing the tiny flaws they find, it makes them feel better about themselves.

“Maybe,” I say. “But I was getting angry at these women and making all kinds of internal judgments about how mean and catty they are. Aren’t I just as bad?”

He didn’t really answer that.

I don’t know either.

These women, like many, were making fun of celebrities. It seems to be a favorite pastime of them, and I am sure they are not alone.

I was very angry with them.

But maybe that is misplaced.

They are trying to find comfort in breaking down these images that society says are “perfect.” Maybe I should be angry with that.

I am.

There is a million ways in which women, and our girls, are targeted and told we are not good enough. Maybe these moms are using this as a way of coping. This is the way they fight back. They poke fun at the very things that they are supposed to covet.

Maybe…

But they are also teaching their daughters that a woman’s body is something to scrutinize and poke fun at. That clothes, shoes, makeup, jewelry…all of that has some connection to how a person should be judged.

Ugh. I hate all that.

I want my daughter to grow up feeling confident. She should not NEED to put others down to feel good about herself. Her worth should be so grounded that nothing can shake it.

I have no idea how to do that.

I try.

I purposely don’t put myself down in front of her. I commend her for actions and try not to say she is “so beautiful” all the time. I never call her princess and try to read her stories about strong women. We talk about virtues and what makes someone a good friend.

I don’t know if it’s enough.

As she gets older I know that it will be harder and harder. I cannot wrap her up and protect her. She will hate her body at some point and that makes me angry and sad.

But I will fight.

I will continue to talk to her and, even more importantly, listen. I will praise her strength and confidence and continue to teach her how to be kind to those around her.

I will fight this battle forever because she is worth it.

And if I’m ever stuck next to those moms in karate again, I’ll just go sit in my car.